A newly published book that will accompany a big exhibition of Turners work next year at the Turner Contemporary, in Margate, has suggested his work may have been heavily influenced by cutting-edge scientific theories of the time.
Turner has often been seen as the first ‘modern’ artists paving the way for the impressionists and beyond with his amazing abstract paintings that captured light and movement in a new way. But this was also the time when art and science were seen as parting ways and becoming two very separate disciplines.
The Turner biographer James Hamilton is now highlighting the influence science and scientists had on Turner and his work. At the time Turner was working the Royal Society and the Royal Academy shared the same building (now the Courtauld Gallery) and there was far more interaction between the scientists and artists. Thomas Lawrence was a member of both organisations and Turner was friends with Michael Faraday, the mathematician Mary Somerville, and knew the anatomist and palaeontologist Richard Owen and chemist Humphry Davy.
It is thought that Turner may have been particularly influenced by astronomer Sir William Herschel‘s groundbreaking lecture to the Royal Society in 1801, in which he revealed his discovery that the sun had a surface with "openings, shallows, ridges, nodules, corrugations, indentations and pores". Plus Faraday helped Turner test the durability of the pigments he used to create his paints.
However great these influences may have been its clear that Turner was both a successful and controversial artist, whose legacy has continued long after his lifetime.
The Turner and the Elements exhibition will open on 28 January 2012 at Turner Contemporary in Margate, Kent.